The view from Poland: How Brexit could impact migration, economy

Warsaw, Krakow – Poland – A wave of Poles moved to the United Kingdom after their country joined the European Union in 2004. Now, in the wake of Brexit confusion and potentially more visa regulations, some are choosing to go home. 

Approximately 1.1 million Polish nationals live in the UK. Estimates hold that 95 percent of working-age Polish expatriates are employed.

According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS), Poland is the most common non-UK place of birth, having overtaken India in 2015. The ONS also says Polish has been the most common non-British nationality in the UK since 2007.

Recently, at Davos 2019, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he is happy that “more and more” Poles are returning home, adding “give us our people back”. 

A resurgent Polish economy is sure to attract more. 

Morawiecki expressed concern, however, at the possibility of a hard Brexit, and emphasised that Polish nationals remaining in the UK must be treated equitably and with consideration. 

Al Jazeera spoke with Poles around the country about how they feel regarding Brexit and their own country’s EU membership.

‘Brexit is very bad for Polish people’

Wiktoria Jankowska, 36, student of logistics at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun

“I think Brexit is very bad for Polish people because they will lose money. Most of my friends care a lot about the future of this country and they don’t have a good opinion about Brexit. Now they think they will stay here instead of going to Britain.

“Also, if the British close the border, the Polish people living there might have to get a visa to leave and I would need one to visit. That would be difficult.”

‘The EU is in the process of breaking down’

Janusz Gralak, 32, paramedic in Krakow

Janusz Gralak thinks the EU is too dictatorial [Paul Brian/Al Jazeera]

“I think the EU is in the process of breaking down. There’s too much of a leftist type of thinking. I remember learning about the Communist time and when I think about the EU it looks similar. In the old days during Communist times, everything came to Poland from Moscow and Moscow said what we should do and what our rights are, and now Brussels tells us what we should do with almost everything. I don’t think it’s a very good idea that nations are like this.

“We fought for our nation for hundreds of years and now we are losing it. I’m not sure if Brexit will be good for the United Kingdom, especially financially, but in this situation, I support the idea because maybe it could be a splash of cold water, a wake-up call. We should take much more care of each of our cultures and heritage. I accept the EU but I hope that it could change to allow more independence.

“I think it’s a very bad idea for Brussels to dictate to us and the UK. Do you know that 85 percent of our Polish law is not our law? We are only supposed to say ‘yes, yes, of course’. Only 15 percent is ours. Why? It’s not right.”

‘Brexit definitely triggered our decision to leave’

Gosia, 39, corporate manager in Warsaw

“I moved to the UK in 2006 and I left the UK last year in the first quarter. I was there with my then-boyfriend now husband and just recently with our daughter. We moved there because the UK presented bigger opportunities and new challenges. We absolutely loved it in the UK. I still have half of my heart back there and it’s all very heartbreaking what’s going on there – really, genuinely heartbreaking. Brexit definitely triggered our decision to leave.

“For me especially, it was as if this big bubble of illusion had been burst that we were living in such a wonderful, open society. But actually, we weren’t. That was extremely depressing.

“It turns out we were not wanted even despite the high taxes we were paying and all the contributions we were making. I really do feel European. I don’t even feel very Polish. I do not want to live in a country that doesn’t want to belong to the European community, to be quite honest. I believe in the EU.”

‘It will have a negative impact in Poland’

Adam, 55, teacher in Krakow

Adam is worried Brexit will impact the ‘unity of Europe’ [Paul Brian/Al Jazeera]

“I think that Brexit will have a negative influence on the unity of Europe. In fact, I think it will have a negative impact in Poland also. Many Polish people work in the UK. I think it is unfair to the people who emigrated there from Poland.”

‘There are more than 22,000 small businesses established by Poles in the UK’

Natasza Styczynska, assistant professor of European Studies, Jagiellonian University

Natasza Styczynska says a no-deal Brexit would be the worst scenario for Poland [Paul Brian/Al Jazeera]

“I’m very surprised Brexit is not discussed here in the media more in-depth because there are more than one million Polish people living in the UK.

“In our country, that is not even 38 million people, everyone knows somebody or has a member of their family in the UK, so Brexit is really important, or should be important for us.

“It’s absolutely obvious that what we have now in the EU is too much for some people, but on the other hand for another group of people, it will be not enough. So there are people who want more integration, especially deeper political integration with Europe and there are people who don’t.

“Britain is also still one of the most important trading partners for Poland. I think there are more than 22,000 small businesses established by Poles in the UK. This economic dimension is very important and it is also why the Polish government is interested in making sure there is some deal.

“For the Polish government, the no deal scenario is the worst scenario because of Polish citizens, because of trade but also because of security issues.”

‘It’s stupid and unfortunate’

Bart Kuzma, engineer in Krakow

Bart Kuzma believes the UK is putting its relations with Europe and Poland at risk [Paul Brian/Al Jazeera]

“I think that the UK should not leave the European Union. Many countries are connected in this system and the UK now wants to be outside? It’s stupid and unfortunate. My friend works in the UK and I think Brexit is not good for relations between the UK and Europe, including Poland.

“It would make a lot more regulations and changes for workers and firms and unnecessary financial rules.”

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